How much money to travel in Asia is enough? There isn't an easy answer, however, the variables can be examined so you can create a budget for Asia more easily.
How much money it takes to travel in Asia is entirely up to you. While luxury is always available (there will be plenty of budget-blowing temptations), frugal backpacking travelers manage to scrape by in cheap countries (e.g., China, India, and much of Southeast Asia) for less than US $30 per day!
Although flights to Asia can be pricey if you don't know the ins and outs of finding cheap flights, the rewards of traveling in Asia far outweigh the extra trouble to get there. Leveraging the currency difference between your home country and developing countries helps to stretch travel savings even further.
Initial Costs for Travel
Before you worry about daily expenses on the ground in Asia, first consider start-up and trip-preparation costs. Although spending money before you even get to Asia isn't exactly a pleasant prospect, many of these one-time expenses will keep you prepared for future international trips.
Take a Tour or Go Independent?
Although there are some advantages for booking a tour on your first trip to Asia, doing so from home will significantly add to the cost of your trip. Tours are tempting because they present a total cost for the trip and eliminate the need to brave the unknown.
If you're willing to wing it, avoid booking an expensive tour from home (the companies who can afford to advertise online are often the most expensive). Instead, wait until you arrive in Asia, then if you still feel that a tour is the best way to see a place, book from a local travel agency.
Booking once on the ground has a better chance of helping the local economy. This is especially true when choosing trekking agencies and booking other outdoor adventures.
When choosing a tour company, go with a reputable, locally-owned company. Plenty of giant Western tour agencies exploit local destinations in Asia and may or may not give back to the community.
Choosing a Destination That Fits Your Budget
Some countries in Asia are far cheaper than others; the cost of living varies widely. How much you spend in Asia ultimately depends on your style of travel. That being said, some places simply require much more cash for eating, sleeping, and getting around. Avoid worrying about finances the entire time by choosing a destination that fits your current budget.
While the sky is the limit for the upper range, some destinations offer more opportunities to save on daily costs such as food, transportation, and accommodation.
Relatively expensive destinations:
Relatively inexpensive destinations:
See How Much Money for Thailand to get an idea for a typical Southeast Asia budget.
The Travel Learning Curve
New destinations become cheaper to travel the longer you stay. As a total newbie, you're more likely to overpay for food, transportation, and purchases until you get a good feel for what's a bargain and what isn't. A few destinations are easier for first-time travelers than others.
From petty discrepancies in price to elaborate schemes, you'll recognize the local scams easier once you have been in a place for a while. Lingering longer also allows you a chance to figure out the best places to eat and drink on a budget.
Aside from airfare, the cost of nightly accommodation is most likely to add up as your second-worst travel expense — assuming you keep the rambunctious nights out to a minimum.
Keep in mind that you'll most likely only be in your hotel room to sleep and shower. No one wants to spend time in front of the TV with an exciting new country waiting just outside!
The idea of hostels and sharing bathrooms in budget accommodation is largely a foreign concept to many Americans. Although not everyone is cut out for a bunk bed in a room full of partying 20-somethings, you can find great deals on private rooms in boutique hostels by avoiding the luxury hotel scene and staying in backpacker areas.
Backpacking is very popular in Asia — particularly Southeast Asia. Many destinations have learned to lure in these budget travelers with cheaper options for eating and sleeping. You can take advantage by getting away from the full-service hotels and staying in cheaper guesthouses.
Forget the dorms with bunk beds; most hostels in Asia offer private rooms with en suite bathrooms. Guesthouse rooms are available in some cheap destinations (e.g., Pai in Thailand) for as low as US $10 per night!
You'll certainly be eating every meal out while visiting Asia. You can cut down on the daily expense by avoiding the restaurant at your hotel and hitting the streets for some much cheaper and more authentic food.
Unless you patronize only costly tourist restaurants, eating in Asia is actually quite inexpensive. Take advantage of cheap street food — yes, it's safe — and food courts for both the experience and great food. A delicious dinner in Southeast Asia can be enjoyed for under US $3.
The Cost of Partying
Although the average budget traveler in Asia may negotiate for 20 minutes to save a dollar, they often spend US $20 or a lot more on a single night out.
Part of the joy of traveling is meeting interesting people; you won't meet them while sitting in a hotel room. Travelers often end up spending an embarrassing portion of their budgets on drinks to socialize. Although this part simply comes down to self control, you can eliminate some of the expense by purchasing your own spirits at 7-Eleven minimarts and making your own party.
An added bonus of couch surfing at least a couple of nights is that your host may be able to introduce you to new local friends. At the least, they'll know the best places for nightlife that doesn't break the budget.
Small, unanticipated expenses add up. Here are a few items that many travelers forget to consider:
- The tap water is unsafe to drink in many Asian countries. Although typically cheap, you'll need to purchase bottled water every day.
- Drinking alcohol in Islamic countries is generally more expensive.
- ATM and money-exchange fees add up. Thailand charges US $6 per ATM transaction on top of whatever your bank charges!
- Taxes in some countries such as Singapore make tobacco and alcohol very expensive.
- If you intend to use your smartphone in Asia, you'll need to purchase a SIM card and credit for each destination.
But there is some good news: tipping is still generally not the norm in Asia.